The time was coming for Jesus to be arrested. He knew it. His disciples did not. They still lived in a confused haze somewhere between offering to crown him king and jockeying to become the best friend of such a man. It was in this state that Jesus began teaching the disciples the last things he would teach them. He knew his time with them was short, and he began packing in as much as he could.
Last Words Are Important
Last words are important. During this last week or so of Jesus’ life, what did he say to his disciples? I reread John 13-17 tonight, looking for what Jesus told his friends during that period. He taught them the importance of knowing him and acknowledging him (John 12:44), of following his commandments (John 12:47 and 14:23-24, among others), and of servanthood (John 13:1-17). Not only that, but he gave them a new command: to love one another as he had loved them. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-45).
Not only did he tell them to follow his commands and then turn around and give them an identity-defining command to love one another, but he went on to pray for them and for you and me. “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me…that they may be one as we are one…that they may be brought to complete unity” (John 17:20-23). And he goes on to say why he prayed this: “Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 7:23).
Unity Over Division
Most of the time, I don’t want unity. I prefer to debate, to argue, and to prove my point. I like to be right, sometimes even at the expense of someone I love or should love. But when I practice that divisive spirit, I am dead wrong. I am disregarding Jesus’ last messages to his followers, to me. I am selling Jesus for the thrill of superiority over others, often others who are just as beloved by and as passionate about their love for him as I claim to be.
Tonight I write this on the eve of the election. I still don’t know how it will turn out, but I do know this: I will work to obey Jesus’ wish for unity in his prayer for me. A political party, any political party, cannot bring about the thing that Jesus said will show the world his face. People at each end of the political spectrum think their ideals are correct, and both parties participate in slinging insults and anger back at the other. Any person can fall right into that quagmire with very little effort. It takes superhuman, Spirit-focused strength to remain in the tension in the middle, in the tension between grace and truth, with love and humility.
I haven’t been good at that. I have tried, only to fall into the quagmire more times than I can count, but I resolve to strive for that unity without compromise.